Northern Ireland’s Ash often don’t get the credit they deserve. Arriving on the indie scene in 1994 they worked their socks off until they finally got a breakthrough with single Girl From Mars, taken from their 1996 album 1977. They were without a doubt one of the pioneering indie bands of the 90s leading the way with their refreshing take on the genre and showing that you can rock out and not have to strut and pose like your life depends on it. They were also one of the first bands in the genre to truly embrace the digital arena with their A-Z Series, which saw the band release a single every two weeks for a year.
In 2015 they returned to the traditional album format with Kablammo! and three years on Ash are releasing their seventh studio album Islands. Produced by frontman Tim Wheeler, Islands sees the band return to Infectious Records, their original label home. That seems even more fitting when you listen through the record because this is a real return to form for the band. We live in a time where chart placings are becoming increasingly irrelevant so artists aren’t having to pander after the latest trends to stay relevant and reach a fanbase. Ash have embraced that on this record and Islands is a joyous reminder of why you’ve been in love with the band for the last 24 years.
The album opens with the jangly True Story and Wheeler’s voice takes you right back to the 90s in the most glorious of ways. By the time the 3-minute track was over, I couldn’t quite believe I wasn’t in my bedroom as a kid rocking out on my electric guitar. The nostalgia is strong and it’s wonderful. Current single Annabel follows and it’s a slice of ready-for-radio rock that sports a memorable melody and a damn catchy hook.
There are moments on the record where Ash experiment and push the boundaries of their sound. Confessions in the Pool, one of the highlights on the record, features shimmering synths and a dance beat that would make Maroon 5 jealous while Is It True? is a pure rush of a pop rock fusion that requires you to reach for that repeat button.
The punchy Somersault is another standout moment on Islands and I can imagine it’s going to sound incredible live. Hand claps combine with the driving beat and you can’t help but want to let your hair down and dance your backside off. All That I Have Left is another moment that makes me yearn for my student indie disco days to come back so I can crack open a beer and party the night away.
Elsewhere on the record Buzzkill is the most down and dirty moment, Don’t Need Your Love has a hazy almost-60s feel to it, and Did Your Love Burn Out? combines Wheeler’s fine vocals with a heavy beat and crunching guitars. Closing moment Incoming Waves is a change of pace and it’s one of the most beautiful songs on the album.
In my opinion Islands is Ash’s best record in years. It lovingly nods to their 90s success whilst forging forward with a path that’s exciting, interesting and most importantly enjoyable. The band sounds energised in a way it hasn’t in a while and Islands feels like the start of the next phase of Ash’s career. Do yourself a favour and get a copy of this album so you can lose yourself in the pure joy that will radiate out of your speakers and make you think for 45 minutes that maybe the world isn’t going to hell after all.
Track listing: 1. True Story 2. Annabel 3. Buzzkill 4. Confessions in the Pool 5. All That I Have Left 6. Don’t Need Your Love 7. Somersault 8. Did Your Love Burn Out? 9. Silver Suit 10. It’s a Trap 11. Is it True? 12. Incoming Waves Record label: Infectious Records Release date: 18th May 2018